Review Summary: Massive goth rock with fallen angel vocals.
2013 has been an excellent year for Sargent House, and Chelsea Wolfe’s third studio album, Pain is Beauty, is no exception. Expanding on the aesthetic of Unknown Rooms and Apokalypsis is a tall order in and of itself, but Wolfe has managed to pull it off spectacularly, and most importantly, without losing the animal brutality and rawness that makes her new brand of dark electronic drone unique.
While Pain is Beauty retains a lot of the same qualities that her previous two albums had, Wolfe seems to have refined them slightly and pulled them into a more consistent tone throughout. The album flows seamlessly from track to track, carrying the listener through dark and disturbing soundscapes. The opener, “Feral Love,” acts as the perfect overture to the album, opening with a very simple, ominous melody, then carrying that melody through a consistent, driving beat with Wolfe’s haunting vocals adding the third layer. In many ways, “Feral Love” takes the primal beats so prevalent in Apokalypsis, presents them to the listener, and then shows the ways in which they have been altered and developed to produce the new album.
A standout track on Pain is Beauty is difficult to pick, but “Sick” stands out to me as one of the most challenging and stunning pieces of the album. “Sick” lacks any kind of driving percussion, yet manages to draw the listener through a lush pool of sound full of strings and pipe organ sounds. On top of that, the lyrics match Wolfe’s aesthetic perfectly, with lines like “i should be put to death for ever being cruel to you / you washed me clean like no one ever could / come closer now and step right into / the wide mouth, the sharp teeth of the one you love.”
Wolfe’s lyrics are arguably some of the best of the year. She keeps her images clear and terrifying, yet uses them in unfamiliar and disconcerting ways to the point where they are almost impossible to decode. They are ethereal and bizarre, but it works because the entire album works in the same way.
Detractors of the album say that Wolfe has gone too far in terms of scaling back the primal wildness of her music, but I disagree. That natural aesthetic is still very present, especially in the percussion of “Feral Love” and “The Warden.” I would say that this album was a chance for Wolfe to expand sonically. It’s an exploration of ways to mix the refined nature of instruments like organs and harpsichords with the primal heartbeat rhythms that she’s so fond of. Apokalypsis and Unknown Rooms are stepping stones to where Pain is Beauty is, and it will be interesting to see where Wolfe takes her sound next in its development.